146. Conversation Between President Nixon and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Shultz)1

[Omitted here is discussion of the budget and economy.]

Shultz: Well, we were talking about the defense reprogramming. You mentioned this ABM—the SALT agreement. John [Connally] told me a little bit about your thinking afterwards.

Nixon: Here’s what the situation is, in a nutshell, in case you never heard it: By the end of this summer—and we will know then, yes or no—by the end of this summer, probably we will have an ABM agreement. And also, we should know whether we will have, coupled with that—and, of course, this doesn’t affect us; unfortunately, it will affect the Soviet—a freeze on their offensive deployment. See, the two have to go together.

Shultz: Uh-huh.

Nixon: It’s very much—it’s a very possible move. This is something that we have in reserve. We’re not talking to all these damn doves. See, they’re all talking about, “Let’s just have an ABM agreement without something.” In a very private way, I sent a message2—nobody knows this, except Rogers, LairdKissinger knows, nobody else. It has to be kept private because it may fail. [unclear] we’ll make a deal for ABM only—I mean, an agreement on ABM, right here. There may be—

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I hope we don’t have to go over the Washington site—maybe just finish the ones we’ve got where they are. I mean, their Moscow thing, plus, put a freeze on their offensive missiles. See what I mean? No more. So, if their numbers of offensive freeze, the ABM freezes. Now, that, of course, means if the ABM money does become available in future years, so you just put that in as a contingency plan. In other words, with ABM, and without ABM.

Shultz: Um-hmm.

Nixon: And that’s what I wanted you to know. Now you’ll know, and know in plenty of time. You see [unclear] we may know sooner than the next—at the end of next summer. We may know, for example, within a month, whether or not the deal will be made. We’ll know it privately.

Shultz: Uh-huh.

Nixon: But we may—but we may not be able to say much about it. This is real—it’s a big card we will play, if you can imagine it. The effect of that on this whole situation in this country could be great if we could have a—an agreement between Russia and Nixon with regard to not—you see, you see where, where most of the doves are making a terrible mistake, is to constantly say, “Let’s just agree on freezing the ABM,” which the Russians would do. Well, that’s one—that’s one for us and two for them. Because that means that you just leave the offensive with the lid off.

Shultz: Um-hmm.

Nixon: And then, we have to go down a few years from now, we’d have to look at our hole card and find that they’ve got a 2-to-1 advantage over us in offensive weapons. And though—so, then we’d have to be building those damn Polarises and all those other things, Minutemen, and that costs a hell of a lot more than ABMs. See my point?

Shultz: Sure.

Nixon: So we have got to tie—ABM is the only card we’ve got to get them to cut—to freeze in offensive. We’ve—And they have indicated they have problems, apparently. They’d like to freeze. They’d kind of like to get this down. If we pull this, this will be an enormous effect on this country. It’ll have a psychological effect on the world. It’s—it’ll have an enormous effect here. But, just as a side note is, it will have a modest effect on your budget. I know it’s not too much. Well, I guess it is in years ahead.

Shultz: The toughest part of these things is building them.

Nixon: So, so you can figure that out in your future budget plan.

[Omitted here is discussion on Defense spending.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 476–8. No classification marking. Haig was also present during the meeting, which, according to the President’s Daily Diary, was held from 10:03 to 10:27 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 141.